Sanderson v. United States of America
MEMORANDUM signed by District Judge Aleta A. Trauger on 10/5/2017. (DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(ab)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
SCOTTIE LEE SANDERSON,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Pending before the court are the Petitioner’s Motion To Vacate, Set Aside, Or Correct
Sentence In Accordance With 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Docket No. 1); the Government’s Response
(Docket No. 5); and the Petitioner’s Reply (Docket No. 7). For the reasons set forth herein, the
Motion To Vacate, Set Aside, Or Correct Sentence In Accordance With 28 U.S.C. § 2255
(Docket No. 1) is DENIED, and this action is DISMISSED.
II. Procedural Background
The Petitioner pled guilty to two drug trafficking counts of an Indictment that also
charged two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and one other count
of drug trafficking. (Docket Nos. 35, 40, 60 in Case No. 3:10cr00259). Through the Plea
Agreement, the parties agreed to a total sentence of 120 months of imprisonment, and the
Government agreed to dismiss the remaining counts at sentencing. (Docket No. 40, at 13-14, in
Case No. 3:10cr00259). The Petitioner acknowledged in the Agreement that if he were convicted
of either of the firearms charges, he would be subject to a mandatory minimum statutory sentence
of 180 months as an Armed Career Criminal. (Id., at 2). At the change of plea hearing, the court
went over the Plea Agreement in detail with the Petitioner. (Docket No. 60 in Case No.
3:10cr00259). At the subsequent sentencing hearing, on August 29, 2011, the court imposed the
agreed 120-month sentence. (Docket Nos. 41, 42, 43, 61 in Case No. 3:10cr00259). The record
indicates that no appeal was taken.
On April 25, 2016, the Petitioner filed a request for a sentence reduction based on an
amendment to the sentencing guideline for drug offenses. (Docket No. 46 in Case No.
3:10cr00250). The court subsequently denied the request because the sentence was based on a
binding plea agreement, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed on appeal. (Docket Nos. 62, 67, in Case
A. 28 U.S.C. § 2255
The Petitioner has brought this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Section 2255
provides a statutory mechanism for challenging the imposition of a federal sentence:
A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress
claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in
violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was
without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of
the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may
move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.
28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). In order to obtain relief under Section 2255, a petitioner “‘must demonstrate
the existence of an error of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect
or influence on the guilty plea or the jury's verdict.’” Humphress v. United States, 398 F.3d 855,
858 (6th Cir. 2005)(quoting Griffin v. United States, 330 F.3d 733, 736 (6th Cir. 2003)).
If a factual dispute arises in a § 2255 proceeding, the court is to hold an evidentiary
hearing to resolve the dispute. Ray v. United States, 721 F.3d 758, 761 (6th Cir. 2013). An
evidentiary hearing is not required, however, if the record conclusively shows that the petitioner
is not entitled to relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b); Ray, 721 F.3d at 761; Arredondo v. United States,
178 F.3d 778, 782 (6th Cir. 1999). A hearing is also unnecessary “if the petitioner’s allegations
‘cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or
conclusions rather than statements of fact.’” Id.
Having reviewed the pleadings, briefs, and records filed in the Petitioner's underlying
criminal case, as well as the filings in this case, the court finds it unnecessary to hold an
evidentiary hearing because the records conclusively establish that the Petitioner is not entitled to
relief on the issues raised.
B. Johnson v. United States
The Petitioner claims that his sentence should be vacated because the Supreme Court’s
decision in Johnson v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2551, 192 L. Ed. 2d 569 (2015)
undermines the validity of the career offender sentencing guideline, which he claims was used to
determine his offense level at sentencing. In Johnson, the Supreme Court held that the so-called
“residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), is
unconstitutionally vague. The ACCA imposes a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for
defendants convicted of certain firearms offenses who have three previous convictions for a
“violent felony” or a “serious drug offense.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). The “residual clause” is part
of the definition of “violent felony,” as set forth below in italics:
(2) As used in this subsection–
(B) the term “violent felony” means any crime punishable by
imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, or any act of juvenile
delinquency involving the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or
destructive device that would be punishable by imprisonment for
such term if committed by an adult, that –
(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or
threatened use of physical force against the person
of another; or
(ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of
explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that
presents a serious potential risk of physical injury
to another. . .
(emphasis added). After the Johnson decision was issued, several courts applied its reasoning to
invalidate the identically-worded portion of the definition of “crime of violence” set forth in the
career offender guideline.1 See, e.g., United States v. Pawlek, 822 F.3d 902 (6th Cir. 2016). The
For purposes of the career offender guideline, “crime of violence” was defined as
follows, with the “residual clause” set forth in italics:
(a) The term ‘crime of violence’ means any offense under federal
or state law, punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one
year, that-(1) has as an element the use, attempted use, or
threatened use of physical force against the person
of another, or
(2) is burglary of a dwelling, arson, or extortion,
Petitioner relies on the reasoning of these decisions in arguing that the career offender guideline
that was applied to him at sentencing was unconstitutionally void for vagueness. More
specifically, the Petitioner argues that his sentence was enhanced because his prior convictions
for aggravated burglary were improperly considered to be “crimes of violence” under the residual
clause of the definition.
In its Response, the Government argues that the waiver provision of the Plea Agreement
bars the Petitioner’s claim and that the Petitioner’s prior convictions for aggravated burglary
qualify as “crimes of violence” without regard to the residual clause.2
The court need not address these issues, however, because the Supreme Court’s decision
in Beckles v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 137 S. Ct. 886, 891, 197 L. Ed. 2d 145 (2017), issued
on March 6, 2017, forecloses the Petitioner’s claim. In Beckles, the Court held that, unlike the
statute at issue in Johnson, the Sentencing Guidelines are advisory, and, therefore, the definitions
in the Guidelines, including the residual clause, are not subject to a vagueness challenge under
involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves
conduct that presents a serious potential risk of
physical injury to another.
U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2) (emphasis added).
Through Amendment 798 to the Sentencing Guidelines, which became effective on
August 1, 2016, the Sentencing Commission deleted the residual clause portion of the definition
and replaced it with language that enumerates specific offenses.
On June 27, 2017, after the Government filed its brief, the Sixth Circuit issued its en
banc decision in United States v. Stitt, 860 F.3d 854 (6th Cir. 2017), holding that the a conviction
for aggravated burglary under Tennessee law does not qualify as a “violent felony” under the
the Due Process Clause. Thus, even if the Petitioner’s prior convictions for aggravated burglary
qualified as “crimes of violence” under the career offender residual clause definition, application
of that definition was not unconstitutional.3
The Petitioner alternatively argues that he agreed to the 120-month sentence in this case,
higher than the guideline range, because he was led to believe that he would otherwise qualify to
be sentenced as an Armed Career Criminal based on his prior state convictions for aggravated
burglary. (Docket No. 1, at 2). The Sixth Circuit has made clear, however, that changes in the
law made after the entry of a guilty plea do not render an otherwise valid plea involuntary or
unknowing. See, e.g., United States v. Bradley, 400 F.3d 459, 463 (6th Cir. 2005); United States
v. Ryerson, 502 F. App’x 495, 498 (6th Cir. 2012); United States v. Whitsell, 481 F. App’x 241,
243 (6th Cir. 2012). See also Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 757, 90 S.Ct. 1463, 25
L.Ed.2d 747 (1970)(“. . . a voluntary plea of guilty intelligently made in the light of the thenapplicable law does not become vulnerable because later judicial decisions indicate that the plea
rested on a faulty premise.”) The Petitioner has not shown that his guilty plea was invalid.
Accordingly, the Petitioner’s Motion To Vacate is without merit.
For the reasons set forth herein, the court concludes that the Petitioner’s request for
Section 2255 relief is without merit. Accordingly, the Petitioner’s Motion To Vacate is denied
The court also notes that the Petitioner’s guideline range was not driven by his
qualification as a career offender because his offense level calculations under the drug trafficking
guideline and his criminal history points were both greater than that otherwise applicable to
career offenders. (Docket No. 64, at ¶¶ 10, 53, 54, in Case No. 3:10cr00259).
and this action is dismissed.
If the Petitioner gives timely notice of an appeal from the court’s Memorandum and
Order, such notice shall be treated as an application for a certificate of appealability, 28 U.S.C. §
2253(c), which will not issue because the Petitioner has failed to make a substantial showing of
the denial of a constitutional right. Castro v. United States, 310 F.3d 900 (6th Cir. 2002).
ENTER this 5th day of October 2017.
ALETA A. TRAUGER
U.S. District Judge
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